Mark Binelli’s article last Sunday in the New York TImes Magazine has me heated. We are tired of being everyone’s poster child without facts. People come and pick out pieces of our story and tell them to push their personal agendas. The fact is that we are flawed, we have messed up, and I can’t think of a person would say they are totally happy with their child’s educational experience here in Detroit. We have come to the point where, while we’ve made friends in both charters and public schools, this is a journey full of struggles and broken promises that we would not wish on any parent.
The reasons parent make the choices they make for their children’s education are driven by a history of failing schools and failing leadership, both inside and outside of the charter sector. This in and of itself is a reason why you can not tell stories about us without our voices. Don’t tell one-sided stories or capture pictures of dilapidated charter school buildings to sway that story. We have 10 times those buildings sitting empty which used to be traditional public schools. Don’t tell stories of charter schools that failed students and went on closure lists while 24 of the schools on last year’s list were traditional non-charter schools.
Regarding the initiative you spoke of that the mayor pushed for: Tell the story of how that same initiative was backed by charter, traditional public, non-profit, and parent leaders from across the city. All of them agreed that there needs to be real accountability. Tell the story of how those same school leaders from all these different sectors brainstormed ways to bring to the city of Detroit a common enrollment system that would have made access to schools easier for all children. Tell the story of how that common enrollment system was not conducive to the needs of parents because public schools were not able to participate at the time because they were under emergency management by the state.
Tell whole truths when you speak of us. When you are invited by charter leaders to get the facts, accept the invitation. Go and sit down with them and learn that they know they messed up and want to get it right for families. Don’t paint the picture of them as the stand-alone failures of Detroit and MIchigan public schools.
Talk to the newest superintendent who speaks often of reigniting a war against charters, one that shouldn’t be part of his focus. He started the school year needing hundreds of teachers to fill classrooms that are overcrowded.
Remember to include the constant growth of white flight that helped deplete neighborhoods of income and left homes abandoned. No, this did not start with riots or burning stores but fear that the have-nots would be sharing space with those they consider unfit for equal rights and education.
Here’s my advice to future writers of Michigan education woes: Tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Don’t try to distort the story and lobby for parents to choose what you think is best for them. Parents here know the struggle. Believe me, if we had our way there would be no need to choose. The school on the corner would be full and alive with students, parents, and teachers who have one common goal, to educate all kids.
So, Mr. Binelli, thank you for your one-sided view of for-profit charter schools and thank you to the principal in the article who is banking on another school to close so that their classrooms will be full again. We appreciate your attempts to show how much “facts” you could put in one article but still miss the big picture. Education sucks on both sides of the fence here.